EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Confounding fans and fantasy football players alike, the New York Giants' running back rotation remains a weekly mystery. Even to the team's coaching staff.
"Obviously, we're trying to find a guy that's going to get in a rhythm and kind of take off with it," running backs coach Craig Johnson said Monday. "But so far, no one has."
The Giants rank 26th in the NFL in rush yards per game with 95 and 28th in yards per rush at 3.8. No Giants running back has run for more than 63 yards in a game this season. (Oddly, that 63 by Rashad Jennings came in their one blowout loss, Week 6 in Philadelphia.) Jennings has been the team's leading rusher in eight of its 10 games, but his 403 yards for the season are good for only 28th in the NFL in spite of the Giants having played one more game than all but three other teams.
Part of that is the inability of the overall run game -- the backs and the offensive line together -- to sustain a rushing attack throughout a game. Part of it is the rotation the Giants are using of four healthy backs -- Jennings, Andre Williams, Orleans Darkwa and Shane Vereen. Since Darkwa began getting carries in Week 7, he's averaged 5.8 touches per game, Williams has averaged 4.8, Jennings has averaged 11.0 and Vereen has averaged 7.8.
Vereen's role is the only one that's clearly defined. He goes into the game on passing downs and in the two-minute drill. But the early-down work is being somewhat strictly rotated among the other three. Jennings gets the first offensive possession, Williams the second, Darkwa the third.
"What we've kind of been trying to do is rotate them like that in the first half, try to figure out who's kind of got the hot hand that day, and then feed that guy in the second half," Johnson said. "So you saw this past week, it was Orleans. Against the Saints it was Rashad. A week ago, if you'd asked me, I would have told you Andre Williams was the best player among the backs. It changes every week."
Jennings offers the veteran savvy and the ability to handle multiple roles. Williams runs with some power. Darkwa is a guy the coaches have been pushing to get more reps because they like the way he finishes runs and they think they need, as Johnson put it, a "spark." All four backs, Vereen included, play on special teams, which is another reason the Giants are hesitant to load one up with a starting back's workload.
"It's certainly unique," Johnson said. "They all back each other incredibly. They all get along, they all help each other, and I appreciate that more than they know. All of them bring something to the table, but they all seem to do it in a different week."
For the foreseeable future, this likely continues. If one of the backs has a breakout game in Week 12 against Washington, that guy could see more of the load down the stretch. And the Giants' coaching staff would like to see that happen. Just don't ask them to predict which one it will be.